The Shaheed Hospital is located in the small town of Dalli Rajhara of Balod District in the state of Chhattisgarh. Mine workers constructed this hospital with their sweat and toil. Every single brick in the hospital came from funds contributed by the workers. Not only did the workers build this hospital, they have run it successfully for the last 40 years. The administration of the hospital is managed entirely by a team of workers. Doctors, nurses and health workers offer their full support to the workers.
Dalli Rajhara is a small mining town located in the Balod District of Chhattisgarh. The two iron ore mines of Dalli and Rajhara give the town its name.
In 1977, the iron mines had two labour unions – INTUC (Congress) and AITUC (Communist). These unions would collect contributions from the workers but were not honest in dealing with the worker’s demands. The workers were desperately searching for an honest leader.
When they heard about Shankar Guha Niyogi, who worked in the Danitola Mines they approached him. Niyogi had been imprisoned during the Emergency and had just been released from jail. Niyogi patiently listened to the workers woes and agreed to lead them. This is how the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh (CMMS) was founded under the leadership of Shankar Guha Niyogi.
The workers struggled for their rights and for fair wages. In a bid to crush the movement the state government opened fire in which 11 workers were killed. Niyogi was also arrested. In the face of fierce workers’ unity, the management agreed and accepted the worker’s demands.
Niyogi, while addressing the workers, emphasized that “The workers union should not limit itself to the work place for 8 hours; it should permeate all 24 hours.” What he meant was that it should not be just an economic struggle, but the Union should endeavour to improve all aspects of the workers’ lives. This vision was very different from those of the traditional trade unions.
The workers struggled for their rights and won. With wage increase the workers got addicted to liquor. The liquor barons reaped bumper profits. Then the union started to reflect, “Did we fight for an increase in wages in order to benefit the liquor contractors?” This was the start of the anti-liquor campaign. This transformed the trade union struggle into a social movement. It was also a movement for better health.
Many struggles were launched and won under the capable leadership of Shankar Guha Niyogi. The sister organization of CMMS – the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) followed the dictum – “Struggle and Construct.” (संघर्ष और निर्माण). The CMM sincerely believed that constructive work must go hand-in-hand with struggle. On the one hand they struggled to usher in social change, while simultaneously engaging in constructive social work for building a new and better society.
Struggle and constructive work were seen as complementary. Constructive tasks included building a hospital, opening schools and opening a technical garage to train the workers’ children in technical skills. The CMM was set up to work with farmers and with people from all sections of society. Subsequently, the Mahila Mukti Morcha (MMM) was set up specifically for the empowerment of women.
The public health programme started with great enthusiasm. Struggle for Health and Worker’s Programme for all Workers were the slogans which defined the Health programme.
It was during this period that an accident took place which resulted in the premature death of Kusumbai – the Vice President of CMSS. It was this accident which gave birth to the idea of the hospital. Because of problems during pregnancy Kusumbai was admitted to the Bhilai Steel Plant hospital. Kusumbai died because of laxity in treatment at the hospital. This saddened the workers and also heightened their anxiety. “Can’t we save our own brothers and sisters? Can’t we take care of their illness?” they began thinking. This reflection sowed the seed of the future hospital.
At first a small dispensary was set up, and it was only later that the decision to build the hospital was made. Initially, all the work for the hospital was done by worker volunteers. The workers collected donations, contributed voluntary labour and worked day and night to build the hospital. In a single day, 10,000 workers collectively cast the cement roof of the hospital. After the completion of the hospital several mine workers underwent training to become health workers. They would toil all day in the severe heat at digging iron ore. In the evening they would each work at the hospital for six hours. They also volunteered at night to serve the patients.
The Hospital was inaugurated on June 3, 1983 by mine workers Lahaar Singh and Hallalkhor, a senior villager of Aadhejhar. On this occasion Niyogi commented, “This hospital is a gift from organized workers to unorganized workers.” The hospital was named “Shaheed Hospital” in the memory of the workers who had died during the 1977 shootout.
Be it the Narmada Bachao Andolan, or Bhopal Gas victims’ struggle or the earthquake tragedy in Latur, the Shaheed Hospital has always helped the victims.
What started as a small dispensary has over the years transformed into a 150 bed hospital. It has a three storied building with modern equipment and facilities installed. There is an in-house dispensary, operation theatre and a pathology lab. About 250 patients show up every day at the Out Patients Department (OPD). Many of them would have had to travel 100-150 kilometers, spending hours to reach the hospital. Patients come from near and far towns of Rajnandgaon, Raipur, Balod, Kanker, Charama, Pakhanjur (Kanker) and other places. When all the hospital beds are occupied, new patients crowd the corridors below.
Several doctors have served at the Shaheed Hospital. While many lent their services to help the workers’ cause, others worked to earn a living. The doctors who played a major role in the People’s Health Movement include Dr Ashish Kundu , Dr. Binayak Sen, Dr. Pabitro Guha and Dr. Punyabrat Goon. But today, Dr. Saibal Jana has become synonymous with the Shaheed Hospital. He came here immediately after finishing MBBS from Kolkata. For the past 34-35 years he has been the backbone of the hospital. He has been involved right from beginning – from the construction of the hospital to the training of health workers. He has been on the advisory board of several health committees set up by the government of Chhattisgarh. Alpana – Dr. Jana’s wife – a trained nurse, has also served the hospital ever since.
Before the hospital came up, people harboured many wrong notions such as women should not drink water during delivery’. Similarly, typhoid patients were encouraged not to eat and drink but to starve. But once the hospital started the health workers fanned out into labour colonies and organized poster exhibitions and demonstrated to people the correct way to treat patients. They also opposed blind faith and quackery. Many lives were saved by providing rehydrating fluids to patients who suffered from dysentery and vomiting. This led to a marked decrease in mortality.
Shaheed Hospital has stood for many ethical practices. For instance, there is general reluctance to use unnecessary drugs. The structure of the Hospital is not pyramidal / heirarchical, as is common in most hospitals, where one is in perpetual conflict for seniority. People here work as equals and respect each other. The hospital does not accept donations.. The hospital does not accept any charity.
It has been a long and arduous journey and the Shaheed Hospital has many accomplishments to its credit. But there are also several challenges staring it in the face. Shaheed Hospital’s greatest friend and benefactor – Shankar Guha Niyogi is no more. On 28 September 1991, Niyogi was murdered in Bhilai.
Translated by Arvind Gupta; original (in Hindi) by Baba Mayaram
Read the original story मजदूरों का अपना अस्पताल in Hindi.